Zelensky calls the fighting in Donetsk ‘hell,’ a sobering view after the recapture of Kherson.
KHERSON, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials were preparing on Sunday to race food, water and medicine to the city of Kherson just two days after its troops re-entered it, while the military worked to secure more of the city and assess the extent of destruction after nearly nine months of Russian occupation.
Russia captured Kherson, a symbolic and strategic prize for President Vladimir V. Putin, at the start of the war, and immediately moved to cut the city off from the world. Ukrainian officials and allies feared that once the city was liberated they would discover the signs of destruction that Russia left behind in other towns and cities.
More than eight months of war have displaced more than seven million people within Ukraine, leaving some towns and cities with less than half their population. Millions more have fled Ukraine altogether.
“Russian occupying forces and collaborators did everything possible to make those people who remained in the city suffer as hard as possible during these days of waiting, weeks of waiting, months,” Roman Golovnya, an adviser to the mayor of Kherson, said on national television.
But on Sunday, though villages outside it have been heavily hit, there were signs that Kherson had not suffered the extent of devastation faced by cities like Mariupol, which Russian forces leveled. While more than three-quarters of Kherson’s residents have fled since the war, leaving about 75,000 people, and there was limited water supply, many buildings and streets appeared intact.
The Ukrainian strategy of patiently attacking Russian forces over months, launching pinpoint strikes on their supply lines and positions, seemed to have preserved at least the fabric of the city.
Residents of Kherson told stories for the first time of enduring months of explosions and shelling, describing the extreme precision with which Ukraine used HIMARS, an advanced missile system, against Russian positions and supply lines. One woman said she remembered surviving a blast 100 yards from her.
Ukrainians targeted Russian positions in the city with the aid of a network of informants, working to avoid hitting civilians. One Russian stronghold near a hospital was leveled by Ukrainian shelling. But the blast appeared to leave the facility relatively unscathed, with its windows intact. Along Ushakova Avenue, an elegant boulevard through the city lined with trees, most of the buildings were undamaged.
The Russian repression often happened in the shadows, with residents speaking of friends and family who were detained and disappeared over nine months of Russian occupation. Ukrainian officials will surely focus on uncovering such reports, as they did in Bucha, the town near the capital where hundreds of bodies were discovered after barely a month of Russian occupation.
In Kherson, after a day of celebration on Friday, the streets were quiet. In one high-rise district, there was a lone light in a window from a kerosene lamp or a candle. With no power, there was no heat or running water. As Russia has lost territory in the war in the past two months, it has turned to indiscriminate attacks on civilians and targeting power infrastructure, leaving cities, including Kyiv, the capital, with blackouts.
Residents of Kherson filled jugs of water to carry up darkened stairwells. But, for now, neighbors were sharing what they had and Ukrainian officials said convoys of aid were being readied to be raced into the city once the roads were considered to be safe from Russian mines.
“And now the city is critically lacking first of all water, because there is practically no water supply in the city,” Mr. Golovnya said. “Now there is not enough medicine, there is not enough bread — it is not baked, because there is no electricity.”
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